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Scenario planning will help airports cope with the expected Q3 upturn in traffic

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As restrictions begin to ease in the UK and with many hoping that more countries will be added to the government’s green list, online searches for flights are increasing, writes Entec Si’s Eman Al-Hillawi.

While this is positive news for airports, many of which have struggled during the pandemic, it is crucial that they put a plan in place for scaling back up and coping with increased demand.

The aviation industry was hit hard by the pandemic. Worldwide lockdown restrictions caused air travel to fall by 60% during 2020, a UN report showed prompting many airports to quickly adapt their workforce to stay afloat.

Although there now appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the sector, with interest in air travel on the up, it still faces an unprecedented challenge over the next few months. In order to mitigate the high levels of uncertainty, airports must begin scenario planning now.

As well as the logistical challenges of ensuring that aircrafts are prepared to fly and runways are ready to receive them, airports in the UK also face the unpredictable situation of travel restrictions, linked to the government’s red, amber and green lists.

Subject to change at short notice, these restrictions are forcing airports to contend with ever-shifting goalposts and the added level of complexity this brings for their capacity management.

Airports across the world have coped differently with pandemic-related challenges. While some have been able to implement effective change quickly, others have struggled with queues and long delays.

Reduced passenger footfall has meant that many airports have had to quickly adjust their staffing levels and adopt new processes, such as social distancing and COVID-19 testing.

They have also had to manage the restrictions imposed on hospitality and leisure venues, such as World Duty Free outlets, which are a significant source of revenue for the sector.

Airport executives have also had to make quick decisions around staffing levels. With passenger footfall and revenues down, many airports have had to react by furloughing and, in some cases, making staff redundant at the start of the pandemic. However, with higher passenger numbers on the horizon, airports must now reconsider their approach to staffing and think about how to maintain agility around it.

This could mean considering options such as flexible contracts or outsourcing temporary staff, until passenger numbers become more consistent and reliable.

When gearing up to return to full capacity, airports must review their existing processes while identifying any weak areas that could be improved to prepare for the return of passengers. This should include looking closely at key areas, such as airport security and passport control, where streamlining passenger numbers is essential to keep queues to a minimum and ensure a smooth end-to-end passenger journey.

New COVID processes such as testing, reviewing digital health passports (if they are introduced), and possible traffic light queueing systems should also be considered for both arrivals and departures. These will need to be incorporated efficiently alongside daily operations.

Although social distancing may no longer be required in the UK from July 19, it is important that when planning new systems, airports still take it into consideration. In the event it is still required, additional staff will be needed to enforce distancing and the additional space will be needed to accommodate for it.

With a number of new processes in place for passengers to follow, effective communication will be vital. Passengers flying to certain countries may need to complete forms or tests prior to their flight, so it is important that airports provide passengers with this information ahead of time.

Online communication platforms, such as the airport’s website and social media channels, will be just as important as personal communication methods, such as SMS messages informing passengers about details of their journey. It is crucial that airports maintain a strong level of communication before, during and after flights.

Internal communication for staff should also be a high priority for airports. Staff play a vital role in ensuring the end-to-end passenger journey runs smoothly, so it is key that they remain informed and up to date on any new and existing processes.

Airports still have a challenging road ahead when it comes to their capacity and demand management, and it will require considerable attention and planning from executives.

Before the pandemic, airports had to contend with large numbers of passengers, whereas they must now gear up to manage fast-changing demand. By ensuring they are running an adaptable and flexible business, they will be able to serve the varied needs of their passengers over the busy summer season.


About the author
Eman Al-Hillawi is a principal consultant and co-founder at business change consultancy, Entec Si.

 

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